There’s no perceivable lag between our decisions to move and carrying out our actions. That’s because the neurons [nerve cells] of our central nervous system (CNS) communicate with each other in a trice, either across a chemical or an electrical junction (synapse). In some areas of the CNS researchers think that chemical signals might be regulating electrical junctions over longer periods, and to study this they've focused on an area of the brain called the inferior olive. Pictured are two neurons from the inferior olive that are communicating both electrically and chemically. By blocking chemical signals the team found that calcium entering the cell, controlled by a gateway called the NMDAR, could depress the electrical signal so regulating the nerve’s activity. It seems that chemical and electrical synapses co-exist to provide another, more long lasting level of regulation that makes our nervous system even more versatile.
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.